My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality
March 3rd, 2011
01:25 PM ET

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and (with Dan Via) Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views.

In her recent CNN Belief Blog post “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality,” Jennifer Wright Knust claims that Christians can’t appeal to the Bible to justify opposition to homosexual practice because the Bible provides no clear witness on the subject and is too flawed to serve as a moral guide.

As a scholar who has written books and articles on the Bible and homosexual practice, I can say that the reality is the opposite of her claim. It’s shocking that in her editorial and even her book, "Unprotected Texts," Knust ignores a mountain of evidence against her positions.

It raises a serious question: does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?

Owing to space limitations I will focus on her two key arguments: the ideal of gender-neutral humanity and slavery arguments.

Knust's lead argument is that sexual differentiation in Genesis, Jesus and Paul is nothing more than an "afterthought" because "God's original intention for humanity was androgyny."

It’s true that Genesis presents the first human (Hebrew adam, from adamah, ground: “earthling”) as originally sexually undifferentiated. But what Knust misses is that once something is “taken from” the human to form a woman, the human, now differentiated as a man, finds his sexual other half in that missing element, a woman.

That’s why Genesis speaks of the woman as a “counterpart” or “complement,” using a Hebrew expression neged, which means both “corresponding to” and “opposite.” She is similar as regards humanity but different in terms of gender. If sexual relations are to be had, they are to be had with a sexual counterpart or complement.

Knust cites the apostle Paul’s remark about “no ‘male and female’” in Galatians. Yet Paul applies this dictum to establishing the equal worth of men and women before God, not to eliminating a male-female prerequisite for sex.

Applied to sexual relations, the phrase means “no sex,” not “acceptance of homosexual practice,” as is evident both from the consensus of the earliest interpreters of this phrase and from Jesus' own sayings about marriage in this age and the next.

All the earliest interpreters agreed that "no 'male and female,'" applied to sexual relations, meant "no sex."

That included Paul and the ascetic believers at Corinth in the mid-first century; and the church fathers and gnostics of the second to fourth centuries. Where they disagreed is over whether to postpone mandatory celibacy until the resurrection (the orthodox view) or to begin insisting on it now (the heretical view).

Jesus’ view

According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Sexual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make sex look dull by comparison.

At the same time Jesus regarded the male-female paradigm as essential if sexual relations were to be had in this present age.

In rejecting a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage and, implicitly, polygamy Jesus cited Genesis: “From the beginning of creation, ‘male and female he made them.’ ‘For this reason a man …will be joined to his woman and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12).

Jesus’ point was that God’s limiting of persons in a sexual union to two is evident in his creation of two (and only two) primary sexes: male and female, man and woman. The union of male and female completes the sexual spectrum, rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable.

The sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female,” two sexual complements designed for a union consisting only of two.

Knust insinuates that Jesus wouldn’t have opposed homosexual relationships. Yet Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis demonstrates that he regarded a male-female prerequisite for marriage as the foundation on which other sexual standards could be predicated, including monogamy. Obviously the foundation is more important than anything predicated on it.

Jesus developed a principle of interpretation that Knust ignores: God’s “from the beginning” creation of “male and female” trumps some sexual behaviors permitted in the Old Testament. So there’s nothing unorthodox about recognizing change in Scripture’s sexual ethics. But note the direction of the change: toward less sexual license and greater conformity to the logic of the male-female requirement in Genesis. Knust is traveling in the opposite direction.

Knust’s slavery analogy and avoidance of closer analogies

Knust argues that an appeal to the Bible for opposing homosexual practice is as morally unjustifiable as pre-Civil War appeals to the Bible for supporting slavery. The analogy is a bad one.

The best analogy will be the comparison that shares the most points of substantive correspondence with the item being compared. How much does the Bible’s treatment of slavery resemble its treatment of homosexual practice? Very little.

Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.

The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Paul urged enslaved believers to use an opportunity for freedom to maximize service to God and encouraged a Christian master (Philemon) to free his slave (Onesimus).

How can changing up on the Bible’s male-female prerequisite for sex be analogous to the church’s revision of the slavery issue if the Bible encourages critique of slavery but discourages critique of a male-female paradigm for sex?

Much closer analogies to the Bible’s rejection of homosexual practice are the Bible’s rejection of incest and the New Testament’s rejection of polyamory (polygamy).

Homosexual practice, incest, and polyamory are all (1) forms of sexual behavior (2) able to be conducted as adult-committed relationships but (3) strongly proscribed because (4) they violate creation structures or natural law.

Like same-sex intercourse, incest is sex between persons too much structurally alike, here as regards kinship rather than gender. Polyamory is a violation of the foundational “twoness” of the sexes.

The fact that Knust chooses a distant analogue (slavery) over more proximate analogues (incest, polyamory) shows that her analogical reasoning is driven more by ideological biases than by fair use of analogies.

Knust’s other arguments are riddled with holes.

In claiming that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship she confuses kinship affection with erotic love. Her claim that “from the perspective of the New Testament” the Sodom story was about “the near rape of angels, not sex between men” makes an "either-or" out of Jude 7’s "both-and."

Her canard that only a few Bible texts reject homosexual practice overlooks other relevant texts and the fact that infrequent mention is often a sign of significance. It is disturbing to read what passes nowadays for expert “liberal” reflections on what the Bible says about homosexual practice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Homosexuality

soundoff (4,272 Responses)
  1. Ken

    Granting, for the sake of argument, that a supernatural world does exist, there is no way to know whether the Bible was written by good spirits or evil spirits. There is nothing in the Bible that the demons of Christianity wouldn't know, so they could easily be the authors. Why would demons write the Bible? Look at the history of Christianity and the lives of contemporary believers: it's a demonic victory.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  2. ernest

    If the Bible is the word why aren't we killing people for missing the sabbath...
    For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Anola

      Earnest, keep reading! In the Old Testament, the laws were meant to set apart the Jews from the other peoples around them.. because the Savior would be born from the Jews. Passages in the New Testament tell us the rules about the Sabbath were ceremonial laws that no longer apply as it once did.
      Paul told the Colossians, "He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. . . . Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day" (Colossians 2:13-16).

      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  3. bnjmn375

    This is why I do not follow any organized religion, because all of them at the bottom have the same mesage. We are the only one right way to do things and if you don't do it our way you are going to hell or the equivilancey. If this dosen't work for you to do things our way I guess we will have to use any means necessary to convert you for your own good. Oh, God save us from your followers.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  4. Law Guru

    And I ban the bible. What do you have to say about that, Christians?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • crucified

      That it took alot of time and effort to go to a religious article to make your post.. are you worried about something? Like where you go when you die!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Bishop

      That I shall hide His word in my heart, that I might not sin against Him.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  5. wrtrprod7

    Amen! Well reasoned article! Interesting to read all the liberals on here pontificating about the Bible without a lick of wisdom and proving the author's point.
    Hilarious how you people can't see how silly you all sound with all your tired, worn out arguments even after the
    writer has ripped those arguments to shreds.
    Read the Bible before you pass judgment. Most of you haven't and it shows.
    Thanks CNN for having the guts to buck your liberal stance and hear out the other side.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  6. none

    getting a doctorate in the bible is like getting a masters in Harry Potter books. It's all fiction and nobody should waste their life on it. Hell this is worse than star trek nerds arguing over the construction details of the Enterprise.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Bishop

      So being able to read Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and in some cases German is akin to getting a doctorate in Harry Potter? Yeah, that makes sense.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  7. Dan

    I'm sorry, but with a looming crisis in the middle east with is this the right headline newspjece for CNN to be featuring?
    Sick and tired of being the boogeyman when stakes are high.

    Legally MARRIED gay man in Massachusetts

    March 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  8. bigfatnerd

    Jesus had 2 dads.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  9. Yabadabadude

    I don't see the difference between believing in Santa and believing in god. Therefor, anyone who believes in that hocus pocus BS is not to be taken serious. Crazy thing is, if two men beat the crap out of each other, everybody wants to watch. We all love movies where two men fight till life or death. But if two men give each other some love, oh no, we can't have that. If religion is truly about love, then where is the problem? Religion is for people who can not think for them selfs. Cats and dogs, give them a leader!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  10. John Steel

    Anyone who bases their beliefs and morals on the 2000 year old rantings of a bunch of bitter, half-crazed from the heat Jews is a blithering idiot and ought to be locked up as delusional. End of story

    March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  11. intply777

    Whatever someone believes or doesn't believe is a personal issue and it was always intended to be like this....we need to all understand that life is a beautiful and short lived gift...just take care of your loved ones and live life with the moral compass that we are born with...it doesn't take scholars of religion or esteemed atheists or "lets all spread the love man!" to know right from wrong...lets just adhere to this moral compass and take care of your tribe and I promise you this entire world will be a lot better than it currently is!!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  12. RevJohn

    This piece illustrates how ideology (conservative, in this case) can be masked as scholarship and used as a weapon against the fulness of humanity. The long sweep of scripture moves in favor of radical inclusion, not condemnation.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • crucified

      you are practicing the theology of Oprah.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  13. will

    The bible also says you shouldnt suffer a witch to live, that adulterers and unruly children should be stoned to death etc? why dont you xtians follow all of the bible?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Paul

      One day when Jesus returns all these things will be judged properly. Today we are no longer under a direct Theocracy like the Jewish church was. Rest assured that the "wages of sin is death" and it will be meted out in full measure to all who refuse to accept God's love and forgiveness in Christ Jesus His Son.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  14. Redragon96

    optimus prime hates christians

    March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  15. Steven

    The fact that this is on CNN's front page is mind-blowing.Time for a new homepage.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  16. Ed Strong

    Who cares? And why is CNN running religious debate as top of the page news? Less than a third of the world is Jewish, Christian or Muslim - the rest have better sense!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  17. Marvin

    This is what CNN considers front page news? You're becoming more sensational than FOX, stirring the flames of hate for hits on your site. Disgusting. I am done with cnn.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  18. David

    Bible itself is created way before medieval times, outdated.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  19. Hopeful

    I know the power of God is real. I was gay and am now a new creature in Christ. Reading God's word takes a humble heart and you can't understand without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we rush right through the scriptures when the Lord knows how much we can take each time. Something so sacred takes careful prayer and guidance. So I hope that each of you give God a chance, because He does love you and wants you in His kingdom some day.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • I am YOUR Samurai Cowboy

      I am really sorry for you. You have been duped and brainwashed into believing a Fairy Tale. The Bible is a work of fiction comprised of myths, legends and outright lies.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Leo

      One of the craziest posts I have read. Clearly you had no concern for how you really felt and just went with what everyone thought you should do just to be accepted. Good job.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • David

      You are lying.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Redragon96

      so will god always hate you, or now since your a christian does "he" not care anymore

      tell me how this works, because if thats the case, i'll just do whatever i want until i'm on my death bed then ask for forgiveness

      March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • David McColley

      "In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true either is true or becomes true."
      — John Lilly (1915-2001), American physician, psychoanalyst and writer

      You may have deluded yourself into believing what you say is true, I'm skeptical. Who cares anyway...

      "I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance."
      — Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) Renaissance English poet

      March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Bishop

      May the LORD bless you and keep you! May He make His face to shine upon you and give you peace forever!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • nelson

      Just what is a new creature in Christ? Are you Gay? Are you saying you have been "cured" and are no longer gay? If you think you aren't gay anymore give it a few years before you ruin the life of a new straight partner. I can't tell you how many people I have seen who have been "cured" then come flying out of the closet later leaving ruined lives behind. If you have been "cured" because of Christ I'm sorry for you. Now you will have a whole new set of torments.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • LK

      Hopeful, your strength and perseverance are amazing. Thank you for sharing this! You are an encouragement to myself and others. May God bless your efforts to obey His commands and keep yourself "unstained by the world".

      March 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  20. Starman

    Oh boy! A guy with a PHD in Theology says the bible says gays suck... this is new?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Atlguy

      I am absolutely stunned that CNN would bother putting such a story like this on their homepage. Is this CNN's attempt at appearing middle of the road? Not Fox, and not MSNBC? Thanks You could care I'm sure, but you've just lost a loyal follower.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.